December 12, 2017

Translators at Work

UMass students gain experience at multinational translation hub

Centrally located in Herter Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is a suite of specialized rooms where on any given day, 10 to 15 languages flow among students and staff—from Spanish and Chinese to Lao to African tribal languages. At any one moment in the Translation Center, 12 to 15 translation projects are going on at once—and some of them may surprise you!

If you have ever listened to the Spanish translation on the Boston MBTA’s CharlieCard machine, for instance, the voice you are hearing is that of Manuela Borzone, a doctoral student in comparative literature who does voiceover work at the center. Borzone has also voiced Merriam-Webster’s “Spanish Word of the Day,” and translates articles, as well.

Spanish Word of the Day.The voice in your language pronunciation recordings may just happen to be that of a professional translator.

A professional translator is something you can be—so with a mission to train the next generation of translators and interpreters, the Translation Center offers educational and hands-on experience to graduate and undergraduate students who have language skills, appreciation of translation’s complexities, and career goals that include professional experience in translation and interpreting. UMass offers an MA in translation and interpreting studies, and certificates in translation and interpreting studies for both graduate and undergraduate students, through the comparative literature program.

“It’s all human-driven, it’s all done by humans,” says Shawn Lindholm, center project manager. “There are programs that can help you translate, that can be a tool, but will never be good enough to gather all the nuances of a language. That’s why you need human involvement.”

Translation is much more than a matter of word-for-corresponding word, of simply knowing two languages—it means interpreting a text. Says the center’s newly appointed director, Regina Galasso: “You’re translating a context.” “It’s a process!” Lindholm adds. “You have to think about it, you have to take into account the cultural significance, any nuances, the word order. It can take about as long to come up with a good translation as it does to write the original.”

“You have to think about it, you have to take into account the cultural significance, any nuances, the word order. It can take about as long to come up with a good translation as it does to write the original.”

Shawn Lindholm, Translation Center Project Manager.

The revenue-producing center is both academic- and business-oriented, offering translations of business and personal documents (driving licenses, diplomas, birth certificates), as well as scholarly articles. Much day-to-day work is practical—for example, translating manuals for companies seeking to break into new markets.

The center takes on projects of all sizes: “We can go small, we can go big,” explains Galasso.

Being in the Five College area creates a multinational pool of translators for the center to draw from locally, as well as linking with hundreds of translators all over the world. “If you take all the people who do translation in the other four colleges,” enthuses Galasso, “and put that together with UMass, we have one of the largest communities of translators and translation scholars in the nation!” “We’re unique,” adds Lindholm. “Other colleges have tried to replicate what we do here. At least once a year, we get a call from somebody asking, ‘How do we do what you’re doing?’”

Galasso, an assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese studies, plans to increase the center’s visibility as a hub of translation activity on campus: to shine more light on the services it offers—such as interpreting services for campus visitors—as well as building its resources to support literary translation.

Translation is key to a connective world. “Even if people just want to translate the front page of their website,” says Lindholm, “that makes a big difference. Just any little effort to show that ‘We’re interested in welcoming speakers of languages other than English!’”